The Express Tribune Editorial 4 May 2021

Gender gap in electoral rolls


Gender gap in electoral rolls in Pakistan had already been the second lowest in the world. It has worsened as the electoral rolls published this year shows that the gap has slipped to 10.4%. This electoral roll is based on the results gathered under a pilot project of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The project was recently carried out in 20 districts of the country to see things on the ground and identify the causes. The exercise shows that the main reason for the increased gender gap is that large numbers of females in these districts have failed to get their names registered in the voter lists due to the lack of CNIC. The major reason for this is obviously the low female literacy rate in the country. The ECP has enumerated other reasons too for this state of affairs. These reasons are valid. In rural areas, NADRA registration centres are located at uncomfortably long distances and village women find it difficult to understand the CNIC registration procedures. The ECP has listed socio-cultural issues and lack of awareness as other causes.
What lies at the bottom of all these negatives is the widespread general illiteracy. If women are unaware of the importance of exercising their right to vote, of how crucial it is in having a say in the governance of the country, their male family members too cannot be of help in this regard as they, in most cases, too are illiterate and so unable to assist their womenfolk. In view of this important drawback, the ECP has stressed the need for close coordination between NADRA ECP officials in order to narrow the voter gender gap. Officials of the two organisations should be sensitised in this respect. This is also necessary in view of Pakistan’s low ranking in the recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. In the report, which also takes into account political participation, the country is at the 153rd place out of 156 states.



A new kind of imperialism?


As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, a new kind of imperialism has taken root. In what is being termed ‘vaccine nationalism’, developed countries are hoarding on excess vaccines as the developing world struggles with a slow vaccination rollout given limited availability for them. To tackle this, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have issued a statement for vaccines to be distributed with “principle of equity and justice”.
Moreover, patent protection and intellectual property laws give exclusive rights to the US, Canada, Japan and European countries over numerous vaccines as they had the resources to bankroll vaccine development. Consequently, even though many developing countries like ours — which may have the capacity to produce Covid vaccines on a large scale — are left to rely on either developing their own vaccine, the Covax programme, bilateral aid or purchase of vaccines directly from the manufacturer at exorbitant prices and delays. To battle this out, China seems to be winning at vaccine diplomacy as it continues to provide medical aid and vaccines to countries in need. Hypocritically, in April 2020, the US had demanded of India to allow hydroxychloroquine exports or face consequences. Now as India is struggling through its worst Covid wave, the US has only allowed sending vaccine raw material for local production. And even though Washington was to debate on a patent waiver, no progress has been made so far.
The impact of this inequality is visible as the developed world has completely vaccinated one in every four people, while the Global South has barely managed to vaccinate one in 500, according to the WHO. The longer the vaccine rollout takes the chances of a mutated vaccine-resistant version spreading globally increases, taking us all back to square one. The developed world needs to realise that sitting on vaccines and just protecting its own populations is not very wise as the economic and medical repercussions of an unvaccinated Global South will be felt the world over.



Inflation excuses


Inflation surged last month, hitting a 12-month high. The 11.1% increase was especially worrying because it was primarily driven by food inflation rather than increased economic activity. Meanwhile, non-food inflation has also been disproportionately influenced by factors such as rising energy prices rather than increased demand for manufacturing. Reports suggest that profiteering ahead of Ramazan is at least partly to blame for inflation. The prices of several items associated with everyday meals during the month saw spikes. Another sad observation is that some food items actually saw their prices go down in the days before Ramazan but spiked as soon as the holy month was upon us, suggesting a lack of foresight on the part of economic planners.
While Ramazan is not the only factor in the high food inflation rate, the other factors do not absolve the government. Remember that several commodities are being imported due to a combination of bad crops and mismanagement of domestic stocks. It is also worrying that high inflation is being coupled with rising unemployment — the IMF predicts both will rise this year. Meanwhile, the IMF and World Bank have both issued growth estimates significantly lower than the government’s already pedestrian 2.1% target.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has been making constant changes to his economic team in an effort to address growing criticism on the economic front. This has created a glass-half-empty or half-full situation. On the one hand, he is willing to change ministers for failing to turn the economy around. On the other, none of his choices have been up to the mark, raising questions about the selection criteria. The recent viral video of PM’s Special Adviser Firdous Ashiq Awan and the Sialkot assistant commissioner during a market inspection sums up the problem. Instead of investigating the root cause of the problem, Awan decided that yelling at a junior bureaucrat was the best response. That bureaucrat, by the way, earned her job, unlike Awan, who was appointed to hers. Like Awan, the government is running out of reasons for why it deserves people’s trust when it can’t even control food prices. Yelling isn’t going to fix the problem. More thinking on the necessary macro-level reforms might

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